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Hana I. Khalil ‘13 talks to a prospective member of the Class of 2014 on the phone during the admitted students telethon held on Thursday in the Bush Room.
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Facing a 6.2 percent increase in applications and a 9.7 percent admission rate, the MIT Class of 2014 experienced the most competitive admissions cycle yet. The biggest change to the process was a modified essay requirement, eliminating the standard 500-word essay and introducing more and shorter essays.

This year’s application required students to write three 250-word essays on set prompts instead of writing one 500-word essay chosen between two prompts. In the summer, the Admissions Office explained why they made the change, saying it would lead to less stylized and over-wrought submissions.

Some have decried what they perceived as a decrease in standards and making it too easy for applicants, but Director of Admissions Stuart Schmill ’86 said the modified essay requirement lead to better and more personal essays.

“We were able to get more information about different aspects of a student’s background and interests; instead of just getting one slice at it, we’ve got three slices,” said Schmill. “The essays themselves were actually denser in useful information. I would say that in most cases students wrote better essays; they answered our questions.”

While the essay change seemed beneficial he said, the Admissions Office has not decided what format the essays requirement will take next year. “We haven’t gotten together as a staff to debrief, I want to hear what the rest of the staff thinks about it,” said Schmill.

As a “safety-valve,” applicants could choose to attach a supplemental essay if they felt they had not shared enough. As is generally the case few students chose to submit supplements, Schmill said.

The Admissions Office also modified the application this year to allow applicants to send links to their websites for consideration, something which students sometimes informally did. The additional section allowed students to submit blogs, research, any material which allowed the students to “showcase their work.”

Some websites were “more impressive than others.” When asked whether any student submitted an improper website, Schmill said that, “There wasn’t anything that I thought was inappropriate. The students seem well coached and they’re smart enough.”

Few demographic changes

Even with the changes in the application, the demographics of the accepted class remains consistent with previous accepted classes. The target size is 1,060 to 1,070 freshmen, held steady from previous years due to limited housing. The yield is expected to remain around last year’s yield of 64 percent, since “frankly there isn’t anything all that different from last year,” said Schmill.

The accepted class is fifty three percent male and forty seven percent female. The racial breakdown for those who listed it is thirty six percent Caucasian, thirty percent Asian, fourteen percent Hispanic, nine percent African-American. Seven percent admitted are international students, who faced a three percent admit rate.

The racial breakdown for those who responded to the question is:

Caucasian 36%
Asian 30%
Hispanic 14%
African-American 9%

Seven percent of the admitted are international students, who faced a three-percent admission rate.

The application rate increased 6.2 percent even though the population of high school seniors is leveling off but still increasing, and the Admissions Office cut back on recruiting.

The Admissions Office carefully admitted fewer students than required to fill a class to avoid overenrolling, meaning that the number of students on the waitlist increased from by 59 percent — from 455 students last year to 722 students this year.

“We were conservative with the number of people we took,” said Schmill. Generally half decline to stay on the waitlist, he said, but still significantly more are on the waitlist than are later admitted.

In this year’s intensively competitive admissions cycle, once again being top of your high school class did not guarantee admission. Nearly half of the students who came from schools that rank are first in their class, but even among those valedictorians, only one quarter were admitted.

“It’s not something we particularly look out for. It’s not like winning a national science fair, where we think, ‘Wow, that’s something,’” Schmill said.

Schmill gave advice for those applying to MIT next year: “Do what you love to do, put as much energy and enthusiasm as you can into it, and let the chips fall where they may.”